Through Shadows and Images...

A Blog by Tom Gourlay

Tag: Reality

25 December – Christmas Day

Gospel Lk 2:15-20

and everyone who heard it was astonished.

This is truly an astonishing encounter.

The circumstances are beyond what we would consider normal – choirs of angels appearing seemingly out of nowhere announcing the birth of the Messiah to lowly shepherds.

Yet despite the extraordinary nature of the events leading up to this encounter, what is perhaps most astonishing is the fact that what the shepherds found not only matched exactly what they had been told – but that the child they encountered corresponded to the deepest desires of their hearts. Extraordinary events surrounded something that was otherwise so ordinary, so natural.

This child, innocent and helpless, in fact changes everything. This vulnerable child is in fact ‘the center of the universe and of history.’ (RH, 1)

And this is what we celebrate at Christmas – the All-Powerful taking on the weak and vulnerable human flesh of this little child. God comes to meet us in the ordinariness of our daily life.

As we must remember, the Christian faith is not a series of intellectual propositions or moral precepts that must be accepted an abided by – ideas (propositions and precepts) do not need a mother. No. The Christian faith is an encounter with an event, a person which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.’ (DCE, 1)

The encounter that the shepherds had corresponded to the deepest needs and desires of their hearts, and this is an encounter that we can now share.

Point to Ponder

‘Mary and Joseph are not ideas. They are real people who made decisions on which our faith depends. Christianity is not a timeless set of ideas. Christianity is not some ideal toward which we ought always to strive even though the ideal is out of reach. Christianity is not a series of slogans that sum up our beliefs. Slogans such as “justification by grace through faith” can be useful if you do not forget it is a slogan. But Christianity cannot be so easily “summed up” even by the best of slogans or ideas. It cannot be summed up because our faith depends on a young Jewish mother called Mary.’ – Stanley Hauerwas

11 December – Third Sunday of Advent

Gospel Mt 11:2-11

‘What did you go out into the wilderness to see?

Why was it that so many were drawn, first to John, and then to Jesus. These figures, enigmatic in their appearance and in their words drew tremendous crowds.

They spoke words that were often harsh and challenging and they were, in the end at least, unsuccessful – at least in worldly terms – in their ministries. Both met rather ignominious ends.

When Jesus poses this question, he tries to lead his listeners to an answer – John was much more than a pleasant novelty.

What John proposed was, in fact, something that corresponded to the desires to the human heart.

While his message was hard: we are all sinners and need to repent. What he provided though was the hope of forgiveness. His preaching pricked the consciences of the people (including Herod, who eventually was to order his execution), but did not leave the people in the despair that often accompanies such a profound awareness of one’s sinfulness. Instead, the Baptist pointed the way to a repentance that was truly life-giving. He smoothed the way for the one who was to come, the incarnation of mercy itself.

How do we react when the awareness of our own sinfulness hits us, when our consciences are pricked? Are we prepared to acknowledge our wrongdoing, and seek the grace to repent and repair broken relationships?

The words preached by John the Baptist find a resonance within us – they correspond to the inner desire of our hearts. They awaken us to the reality of our need, our sinfulness. And they call us forward, out of our sinfulness toward a place where we can open ourselves for the coming of the Incarnate God, to encounter Him who gives us life.

Point to Ponder

‘No act of our conscious life is true if it does not start out from the awareness that we are sinners.’

– Fr Julián Carrón: Exercises of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, Rimini 2016.

8 May – The Ascension of Our Lord

“as he blessed them, he withdrew from them and was carried up to heaven …”
The story which we mark today is perhaps one of the most fantastic that we have in the Gospels. After his death and resurrection we’ve been regaled with tales of his numerous miraculous appearances to the disciples, and now we find him physically taken up into heaven, and seated at the right hand of God.
At the time, despite their many experiences with Jesus, it seems that they still had little understanding of him – indeed, they were still expecting him to establish an earthly Kingdom of Israel.
For the disciples this episode of his ascension must have been an amazing experience: one so real and so important to them that Luke records it twice, once here in this reading, and later in the Acts of the Apostles. One can scarcely imagine how deeply the events of the last three years of their lives would have impacted them. And now this – as he blesses them he is taken from them into heaven.
But what does all this mean for me today, in my life?
It seems that our own understanding of Jesus is fairly limited also – despite whatever study we may have done to grow in that area – the person of Jesus always ultimately remains a mystery, yet one we are so strongly drawn to because it is in him that we the whole of human experience lived out most fully. In the words of the Vatican II Council, he ‘reveals us to ourselves.’
So why am I asked to believe that he ascended, body and soul into heaven? His ascension, it seems, allows him to be closer with me, with all people of all times and places. He is no longer bound by time and space.
The Ascension, says Italian priest Fr Luigi Giussani,  is a mystery that ‘completes the mystery of the Resurrection, amplifies and enlarges it to all of reality, all times, all history, eternity.’ (In the Depths of Things).
It establishes Jesus’ Kingdom on the unmovable reality of heaven as King of the universe, and Lord of history.
Food for thought
‘The Christian message announces the permanence of the fact of Christ, as a continuous happening – not something that happened once – but as something that still happens.’ (Luigi Giussani, Why the Church?, 203)

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